The Genesis of Exodus

“These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.” —Exodus 1:1–7

Thus begins Exodus. Or, does it? That intro sounds very Genesis-y doesn’t it? Exodus isn’t stand alone. It’s volume two of a five volume work by Moses. To read Exodus rightly, start with Genesis. It’s only our familiarity with the stories that makes us think we know what’s going on. Ever been with friends who are watching the second or third film in a trilogy of which you haven’t viewed the preceding titles? You have all kinds of questions. “Who are these people? Why are they doing that? How are they related? What is the backstory?” Likewise Exodus. “Who is Israel? Why are they in Egypt? Who is YHWH? What is the covenant He made with Abraham and how does it relate to these people?”

Inversely, to read Genesis well, you must understand it as the preface to Exodus; a prequel that came out later. We often read Genesis as though it were recorded by an automaton in real time as the events unfolded, handed down from one patriarch to the next. Not so. The events recorded in Genesis were received by Moses for the people of God at the time of the Exodus, far removed from the events recorded there.

Why the time delay? Because what happens in Exodus has its roots in the foundation of the earth. The seeds of the exodus were planted before God made the dry land appear on the third day. Sin didn’t catch God by surprise. All through Genesis you’re waiting for a child. A seed of the woman to crush the head of the serpent and bring redemption—God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule—shalom, very good. Again and again, the children of the serpent seek to crush the children of the promise. The children of the promise endanger things with their own sins, but from the refuse of man’s sin God causes grace to grow. Children are born, but repeatedly, they disappoint. They’re only shadows.

Then, Exodus. Once again the serpent is trying to kill the seed. A child is born. He catches his mother’s eye. He is saved. He grows old. He delivers God’s people, leads them to a mountain to receive God’s rule, and from there, to God’s place. But he too is only a shadow. Millenia later the Seed of the woman would be born of a virgin. A small king again would try to eliminate the Seed, but He would escape, to Egypt. He would be the greater Moses, the greater Passover, the greater Deliverer, the Lord of the greater Exodus. Because of Him, God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule—shalom, very good.

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